This Lent -- Looking Inward, Looking Outward
Congress is working on the federal budget for the rest of the fiscal year 2011. It is now clear that some of the proposed budget cuts would slash programs that save the lives of some of the poorest people on the planet. These programs have been championed by Republicans and Democrats in the past, but now some of the best programs our government funds to help combat pandemic diseases and eliminate poverty are on the chopping block. Here is a snapshot of what that looks like.
If just one of the proposed cuts is passed -- $450 million in contributions to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Malaria and Tuberculosis -- approximately 10.4 million bed nets that help prevent malaria will not reach people who need them; 6 million treatments for malaria will not be given; 3.7 million people will not be tested for HIV; and 372,000 tests and treatments for tuberculosis will not be administered.
While the White House has done much better than Congress in protecting critical international aid, President Obama's proposed budget for the fiscal year 2012, which he just released this week, shows deep cuts to domestic anti-poverty programs. Grants that state and local governments use to fund the most effective anti-poverty programs in their area would be cut by $300 million, including assistance for low-income people with heat and energy bills, which would be cut up to $2.5 billion. Obama's proposed budget left me asking, should poor families have to survive harsh winters without heating oil because politicians are not willing to take on much bigger and far less effective areas of exorbitant spending?
Both the fight around the rest of the fiscal year 2011 budget and Obama's proposal for the fiscal year 2012 show the bad priorities of Washington. If the Republicans go through with these cuts to international aid, they should stop talking about family values and being pro-life. And if the Democrats don't fulfill their historic role of defending low-income people, we must ask, what good are they as a party? When I read the gospels, the narrative is clear: Defend the poor and pray for the rich. But our political leaders have taken to defending the rich, and if the poor are lucky, they might get a prayer.
Excessive deficits are indeed a moral issue -- but how we got into this deficit and how we now address it are also moral concerns. We certainly did not get into this much fiscal trouble by spending too much on the poor, and trying to reduce the deficit now at the expense of our most vulnerable people is simply morally unacceptable. It's time to look at our bloated military budgets, our endless wars, our corporate bailouts and subsidies, and, yes, our middle class entitlements.
But how can we prepare for the moral fight that is ahead of us? Our prophetic role is never divorced from our own personal responsibility and transformation. We've heard from many pastors and lay leaders about the increasing burdens they feel as their churches are still being hit hard by the effects of the economic crisis. We want to offer resources and encouragement to those who are on the front lines of helping those in need, especially during the upcoming season of Lent, which is a time to look at ourselves, examine our own choices and priorities, and test the love of Christ in our own lives.
I want to offer two resources to you. First, Sojourners is hosting a conference call with Elizabeth Warren, head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau; Noel Castellanos, CEO of Christian Community Development Association; and Rev. Joel Hunter, Senior Pastor of Northland, A Church Distributed. They will share reports on what is happening on the ground across the country, best practices for how churches are meeting new challenges, and what kinds of structural changes we need as a country around bad loans and bad credit. You can sign up for the call for free here.
Second, we have put together a Lenten study for groups called Rediscovering Values this Lent. This study is in seven parts and will bring your church or small group through various Lenten themes, while challenging how we view money and the economy. As you are preparing for Lent this year, we hope you will take advantage of these resources.
This Lent we must look both inward to ourselves and outward to holding our political leaders accountable. Sojourners wants to help you do both. This dual focus -- inward and outward -- runs deep in our faith tradition and is essential to our own faithful integrity. Let's make this Lent both a pastoral and prophetic season of reflection and action. God bless you.
Jim Wallis is the author of Rediscovering Values: A Guide for Economic and Moral Recovery, and CEO ofSojourners. He blogs at www.godspolitics.com. Follow Jim on Twitter @JimWallis.
+Join Jim Wallis and faith leaders from across the country for a conversation on Faith & Economics this Lent, during a free teleconference, March 2. RSVP today to reserve your spot -- space is limited to 200 leaders.